Review: Pallbearer ‘Mind Burns Alive’

It’s not too often that I choose to review an album by a band that I’m emotionally invested in… it feels a bit like cheating and making things too easy for myself. However, in the case of Pallbearer, opting to review their new album Mind Burns Alive (released via Nuclear Blast) means getting to hear it a few weeks earlier than its 17th May street date – and that’s worth bending my principles for.

Pallbearer 'Mind Burns Alive' Artwork
Pallbearer ‘Mind Burns Alive’ Artwork

I’ve been a massive Pallbearer fanboy since I first heard Sorrow And Extinction, which is firmly in my list of top five debuts of all time, alongside the likes of Danzig. However, loving a debut album so much invariably leads to a conflict whereby you want more of the same from the band, whilst also being aware that bands who release Debut Part Two invariably fail to reach the bar, and tend to break up due to artistic stagnation.

Pallbearer’s subsequent albums have all followed a similar pattern in terms of my personal reaction to them. Phase 1: slight disappointment that it isn’t as gloriously doomy as the debut. Phase 2: coming to love certain songs but skipping over others. Phase 3 (at least a year after release): I love this album, it’s brilliant and I am an idiot.

And so, it was with the release of the opening track, Where The Light Fades, a couple of months ago… I was initially grumpy that this indicated that the new album wasn’t going to be doomy enough, but then I quickly rejoiced at how good a song it was. Luckily though, in getting to put this and the subsequent single Endless Place in the context of the album before the rest of you get your hoi-polloi mitts on it, I’ve jumped to Phase 3.

I won’t be going through all six tracks in this review, because, quite frankly I’d be rambling for far too long, and that’s time you could better spend listening to it. Instead, I’ll focus on the three tracks which I think best represent the breadth and extent of what Pallbearer are now doing. Never fear, the other three are just as good, but they sit within the extremes covered by Where The Light Fades, Endless Place, and Daybreak.

Where The Light Fades is important because it platforms Brett Campbell’s lead vocals in all their butterfly-esque maturity. It’s perhaps unsurprising, in light of the clear musical inspiration that Pallbearer are taking, that Campbell’s delivery now reminds me most of Jakko Jakszyk, who took on lead vocal duties for King Crimson from 2014 until they finally bowed out gracefully. As with Crimson, Pallbearer are now unafraid of incorporating the sweetest of melodies, from both vocal and guitar, happy in the knowledge that these melodies intertwine with subtle dynamics to make the heavy parts (and they do come, believe me) more effective than ever before.

This opening track is resplendent with multi-tracked guitars (electric and acoustic) and gentle touches of synth. It’s such an accomplished sound, and the production and mastering are spot on – none of the clipping that bugged me slightly about the previous album Forgotten Days. The track sets out Pallbearer’s stall – nothing is rushed – but at the same time, the six-and-a-half minutes fly by with nary a wasted note.

they’ve delivered an album that’s more mature than anything that’s come before, infinitely more exposed in its fragility, and also as satisfyingly heavy as Sorrow And Extinction…

Endless Place begins in such a way as to immediately recall Sorrow And Extinction: a gentle acoustic intro, which is blasted away by a warm wave of overdrive and the line ‘here I am… alone and so confused’. This instantly dragged me back to hearing the debut and thinking that finally someone had come along and take up the challenge that Warning’s Watching From A Distance posted. The first half of this almost eleven-minute epic is modern doom at its finest and will satiate even the fiercest things-were-better-in-the-old-days sceptic.

However, Pallbearer aren’t content to just out-doom the opposition; oh no, they also go full prog by slowing things down – lowering the lights – and introducing the brilliant saxophone of Norman Williamson. This solo recalls the mind-bending Masterpiece by Grover Washington Jr. Who’d have thought I’d be pointing out a doorway to jazz in a Pallbearer review?… well thankfully that’s the breadth of musical touchpoints that Mind Burns Alive has.

And so, onto the third track that I’ll discuss; Daybreak. This is the first time we’ve heard Joseph Rowland assume lead vocal duties. Daybreak is where Pallbearer cast off any worries about external expectations and have produced the most emotionally raw song of their career but in an unexpectedly delicate fashion.

For the first couple of minutes, Rowland‘s faltering vocal is partnered by only a gentle e-bowed guitar – it’s a sparse sound that’s more reminiscent of European indie rock bands like Logh and Sometree than it is any doom band you could mention. This minimalist delivery makes the distorted guitar all the more effective when it arrives midway through the track. The guitar solo that brings the song to a close is vaguely Celtic in its melody and echoes the e-bow sounds that we began with.

Mind Burns Alive as an album represents Pallbearer fully escaping the shackles of doom (is there an album called that?… there should be!). In doing precisely what they want to do – at the third time of asking, after a fraught recording process – they’ve delivered an album that’s more mature than anything that’s come before, infinitely more exposed in its fragility, and also as satisfyingly heavy as Sorrow And Extinction.

I haven’t touched on the lyrical content in this review – suffice to say that it resonates more with each listen. Mind Burns Alive appears to be as dense and satisfying as a classic novel, and I’m sure it will continue to reveal itself all the way into a great many album of the year lists come the end of 2024.

Label: Nuclear Blast Records
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Scribed by: David J McLaren